A research paper outline may seem like extra, unnecessary work, but can really streamline your writing process. Think of it as a stepping-stone between your research and your final product. Your future self will thank you for your outline.
Imagine your research as a big pile of Lego, and you want to get building. If you take take time to sort the Lego by colour and piece types, you will be able to quickly find the pieces you need as you build. Your build will happen faster, with no substitutions or short cuts if you can find all the Lego pieces as you need them. The same principle applies to your research and writing process.
As you compile your various sources, it is a good idea to label them with keywords related to your paper sections. Colour-coding is also very helpful. This can be done in Word, or with old-fashioned paper and pen. You’ll develop a technique that works for you.
Remember that your outline is just for you – neatness does not count. Here’s a sample of one of my handwritten research notes:
TIP: Before you start your online searching, create a Word document to function as a parking lot for all relevant URL’s that you find.
Once you have all your sources and you’re itching to start writing, it is time to craft your outline. Again, your outline is nobody’s business but yours. It can be a colossal mess, so long as it makes sense to you.
As you build your outline, you will start to order your research, thoughts, and ideas. By the time you begin writing the body of your paper, you already have the structure established. This saves you a lot of editing time later!
TIP: Use Word’s multilevel list under the paragraph tab to autogenerate your outline numbering hierarchy.
Following is an example of a simple outline:
Following is an example of an outline for an academic research paper:
Hopefully you now feel more comfortable with the outline process. A good outline will become an increasingly easy endeavor with practice and will help you improve your writing organizational skills and grades.